Samsara and the Heart of Compassion

Samsara and the Heart of Compassion — being alive means confronting the whole of life, preferably from a place of compassion

In This Moment

We continue to enjoy our time in Costa Rica, and are also thinking about what’s next.

I’ve thought long and hard about whether I have something useful to say about the events earlier this week in Boston.

I felt the same dilemma back in 2001, after the Twin Towers. I see that I deleted the article I wrote back then.

I read something by Zen guy Brad Warner, where he was expressing his disgust for the perpetrator(s) of the bombing, and indicating (they) should be shredded. I found myself nodding in agreement.

Today, he reported that his expression of anger was taken badly by some Buddhists, who were taking the “high road of passificism.” Calling him out, as it were, for his expression of his feelings.

So, I decided to write.

The reason I initially had nothing to say is that this is how it is, here on planet earth. Horrors line up with the incredible joy of living. Evil is perpetrated on the innocent, and bliss surrounds us. In Buddhism, this existence is called samsara — the wheel of life and death.

Wikipedia: Samsara arises out of ignorance (avidya) and is characterized by dukkha (suffering, anxiety, dissatisfaction).

I’m sure we all remember the real sinking feeling that came on 911. And the reason was not the number of dead, but the shock of adjustment to the idea that people could and would fly passenger jets into skyscrapers. Now, we accept that this is a part of our reality, even if it so far has not been repeated.

You cast your eyes back the the 70s, and you find the Killing Fields. Millions dead. And to the 30s-40s, in Nazi Germany, and ovens that the Allies knew about, but couldn’t comprehend or believe were serving the purpose they served.

I’m sure the first guy the Romans crucified couldn’t believe it had gotten that bad. And on and on, turns the wheel.

So is the world irredeemably bad? Or, as some have written this week, is the world really a good place, filled with good people, who outnumber the bad folk?

It’s neither. It simply as as it appears, right in front of you. This… this “is-ness” is as real as it gets.

So, what to do?

Well, the same thing we might profitably always do. Feel what we feel, express it, and move on. And in the moving on, we might just choose compassion.

Thinking about Boston for a minute, the thing most commentators have noted is the number of people running toward the blast, out of compassion, to help.

They mark this as proof of humankind’s goodness. It’s nothing of the sort.

The Globe and Mail interviewed some Canadians who were there, and they basically said, “After the second blast, we sprinted away, toward our hotel.” Indeed, while most sprinted quickly in the opposite direction, some (on one video, we see cops, two soldiers, and the expat Costa Rican in the cowboy hat) are seen racing to help.

The runners-away are not bad, and the runners-toward are not good. Both are human, and both demonstrate what we do when something goes boom.

We don’t know what we’ll do until we’re in it.

The compassionate act, though, is typically going toward. Compassion is not good or bad. It’s a choice of action.

The lesson we can take from this event is the same one we can take from 911, and other mind-numbingly obscene events.

Here it is: shit happens, and will continue to happen, until we die. This is the reality of the spinning wheel of life.

It is a useless exercise to freak out, get scared, get angry, blame, or declare ourselves (tearfully!) one of the good guys.

The Way of Compassion

Compassion from a distance means holding the families of the dead, and the injured, in our deepest heart of caring and concern.

Compassion for life means continuing to engage with the real world, day in, day out, with directness, care, and “fearlessness.”

Compassion close up means, like in the Christian story of the Good Samaritan, crossing the road, binding the wounds, carrying the injured, “paying the bill,” and moving on. In other words, running toward the explosion, to be of service.

And finally, self-compassion means accepting that all kinds of stuff is going to come up inside — fear, anger, nausea, disgust, thoughts of retribution. Self-compassion is sitting with each of these things as it arises, examining it to see if it needs expression, and expressing, safely and cleanly, what needs expressing.

Yell, cry, cuddle someone.

And then, leave it behind, and start walking again. Because there is more to do, more wounds to bind, without making a sanctimonious song and dance of it.

Zen teaches us that what is, is. There is, right in front of us, always, something to do, without hesitation. The doing is the being, and the being is right here, right now, engaging the only life and world we have.

Compassion for it all, and then, the next step.

Make Contact!

So, how does this week’s article sit with you? What questions do you have? Leave a comment or question!

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

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